As a comic book reporter, I get a chance to talk to a lot of different comic book creators. Today I am honored to interview Larry Fuller, a comix legend.  Larry created Ebon, the first comic to be entirely written and drawn by a single black creator at the end of 1969.  This started his journey into the San Francisco comics scene of the 70’s where he collaborated with talents like Grass Green, Guy Caldwell, and Raye Horne/Wiley Spade. Larry also known for creating very cutting social and political comics.  Larry also was kind to provide art from then to what he is doing now.

Cover to Ebon #1

Joeseph Simon
You are the creator of Ebon, the first comic to be entirely written and drawn by a single black creator. This was, in fact, your first comic! Researching on the internet says that Ebon was published in January 1970. At the same time, I have seen other indications of December 1969. A minor difference of a month. But, from a historical perspective, which is accurate? Was it a case of Spearhead Comics in 1969 and San Francisco Comic Book Company in 1970? In addition to its published date, when did you start creating Ebon?

 

Larry Fuller
I think it was December 1969 when it was printed, though likely there was no “press” until January 1970, such as it was. Spearhead Comics was the brand name I made up. I thought it looked pretty cool. Gary put his stamp on it as San Francisco Comic Book Company and that was fine by me. Don’t tell anybody, but we smoked a lot of good weed in and around our comic activities.

 

A-Fool-and-His-Life-Panel-from-a-WIP-strip-still-unnamed-near-future-setting-done-in-Poser-DAZ-Studio-Photoshop

Joeseph:

Gary Arlington was behind San Francisco Comic book Company. Gary was an interesting fellow. Robert Crumb attributes a lot of the success of San Francisco’s underground Comix in the 70s and beyond due to Gary’s contribution to it. How did you meet Gary?

Larry:
I saw his store from a Muni bus one day en route home from work and decided to visit. Such visits went on for about 40 years. The first time I went there I met Crumb but didn’t know who he was then. Over the following years, I met a bunch of comics/comix luminaries, even a few very bright ones. Gary and I became and remained friends until he passed away some years ago.

 

 Joeseph:
You created Ebon in many ways as a homage to comics and your love of the industry. You made liberal use of swiping poses from Gil Kane, John Buscema, and others. What, then, were you reading?

 

Your Future Patrons – Poser illo after binge watching The Walking Dead (still couldn’t get into it).

Larry:
Yes, I made liberal use of swipes. Hell, I did the whole thing on tracing paper. I wanted my next artist to have a visual reference and not just have to listen to me ranting about how and what I wanted done. I have read some places that I went to art school so I could draw it. I did use my GI bill to attend the SF Academy of Art, but that was 2-3 years later when I had seriously gotten the drawing bug after meeting and being tutored by my subsequent long time “partner in crime” Raye Horne, aka Wiley Spade. In fact, Gary Arlington introduced us.

He was in homage I guess you could say, but I wanted a Black superhero. As much money as I spent on comics, superheroes, in particular, I felt I was owed, especially when I saw so many people making their own comics, subject matter notwithstanding.

I read a lot of stuff – comics, classics, plenty of science fiction, philosophy, all kinds of stuff by Black writers, murder mysteries, whatever struck my fancy – still do – one of my life’s greatest pleasures. In fact, I had a thing I used to do whenever I went to the SF Public Library: Whatever the first book I encountered at a table in the reading room was, I would check it out. I preferred mostly fiction, but that habit leads to alternately many great surprises, some deadly boring things, and sometimes stark revelations, often of stuff I never suspected. One skill I learned, which I practice to this day, is how to read and absorb stuff in which I have little to no interest. This has come in very handy just being a Realtor I tell you.

I had had the idea of Ebon for a while and eventually found an artist. He was good, but lost interest after a while, being more of a painter, and probably tired of me railing about this great hero I had created. That was decades before Internet and a lot of rubber had to hit the road to do things like you and I are doing now: communicating from afar. Ha! I’m typing this with a stylus on my phone. At any rate, unable to find another, I put the book together myself, strictly as guidance for when I found another one. In fact, I had hopes that Gary would use it to find one. Instead, he published it. Needless to say, I was shocked as well as both pleased and dismayed that he did that, but he was in the business and knew more about such things than I did.

 

Fear Like Hope Is Local – Poser illo run through Painnt, Android Phone Graphic App.

Joeseph:
Did you know at the time that Ebon would be history in the making?

 

Larry:
I might have hoped that, but didn’t feel much like that at the time. I was only 25 and not much interested in the “history of the future.” Plus I had a wife and kid, with one on the way, and worked full time. Creating that book was an exercise in cramming it all in when I could.

 

Joeseph:
Ebon didn’t use slang or other Blaxploitation derivative conventions. Was this a kind of rule for Ebon?

 

Heron On Hand0001 Book Illo 01 Sig FR – another of those “WIP” thingies, Poser, Photoshop, PostWorkShop.

Larry:
IIRC, the Blaxploitation “craze” or phase may have come along slightly after that. There was only one issue published that had to be put together by a then “non-artist” – me – who had never done

anything like that. I did not feel then that I needed to do much if any, overtly stereotypical stuff if I correctly understand the question. Plus, most of the Black folks I knew then, or now, did not/do not conform to what some might deem “other peoples’ expectations” of what all/any/most Black people should or do sound like. No offense taken at the question though. I would say, though, that some such elements did make their way into some of our later efforts, notably White Whore Funnies – but that was clearly by design or as some have said provocation.

 

Joeseph:
If Ebon had attained a greater success, where might the comic have continued towards?

 

So What Do You Pray For – done entirely in Inkscape.

Larry:
Who knows? Had sales warranted, I felt I was prepared to do several more issues – with appropriate artist support. Raye Horne had come along a while after it and we did do considerable further workups of Ebon and other denizens of his universe. At that time we had no concept of self-publishing, and Gary had no interest in continuing Ebon due to its abysmal sales. We spent the next few years polishing our skills and doing our thing: buying and collecting comics of all sorts. Also, my first marriage had ended and I spent a good deal of energy on my social life. It was a tough life, but somebody had to do it.

 

Joeseph:
Any chance of seeing a new printing of Ebon? I would buy a copy and I suspect a lot more than a hundred others would as well. There is a lot of interest in the history of Black created comic books. Not just here, in the states, but other countries. I have a friend who is an award-winning poet in South Africa and others who would be interested as well.

 

Larry:
Wow! That sounds great. I’d love to hear more about the poet and the others. I think the position of Ebon in the Black created comic timeline does give it a certain gravitas. Serious collectors have

Smiling Jackie_03 – Inkscape pinup.

certainly given it added weight as well. In retrospect, though I think he might need to be rebuilt from the ground up. I feel it was very derivative of the typical superhero genre. At the time I had a real fire in the belly to get it done, and I always felt having to do it all might have been a bit too much for the very inexperienced creator I was at that time. Now, while not having pinpointed exactly what he would be like, I do know it would be much less of the typical hero and bad guys, cops and robbers, etc., but would certainly need fine-tuning so as to have enough action, but also much less of the standard hero/villain predictability.

I do not think though that Ebon may necessarily be done for good, but that’s all I can say. Might be a nice thought though.

 

Joeseph:
You worked with other prominent creators like Grass Green, Guy Caldwell, and Raye Horne/Wiley Spade. Each of these creators had an amazing impact on comics, along with yourself.

 

Bleary Eyed Dude – Drawing in Inkscape – free open source rival of Adobe Illustrator

Larry:
Raye Horne/Wiley Spade are the same individual. He was only 50 when he died in 1995. He was my closest comic book friend for about 24 years. We fell out a good deal too – often creative differences, work practices, goals, a girl once, etc., but we always patched things up. He has a page on Lambiek for more info under Raye Horne. There wouldn’t have been as much of a me without him.

Guy Colwell is someone I never had the pleasure of meeting – or working with – but I really, really admire his work – always thought he was on “another level.,” Frankly I feel honored being mentioned in the same paragraph with him.

Enough people in comics, most especially younger Black ones, have expressed to me how they felt knowing something about me and appreciation of at least some of my works, many of which are clearly not for everybody, that I feel absolutely honored to be so regarded. It is indeed nice to be appreciated, but I never really saw myself as having much of an “impact on comics.” I tried hard but never quite got to where I wanted to get – self-sustainable comics creation and publishing – but at some point, I completely decided to enjoy the ride, so I did. There were things I did right and things I did wrong, but I always took my best shot, even when missing the mark.

I also have to say that the current comics landscape is filled to overflowing with lots of bright shining talent that I feel incredibly lucky to have been blessed to witness – with much more arriving, on

a daily basis it seems. So I guess, if I was responsible for even an iota of that, maybe I did have some kind of an impact, and I’ll take it.

El Abrazo Sin Remera – Embrace Without Shirt – old Poser illustration from everynightoftheweek.com.

Joeseph:
Each took part in the underground comix scene. A lot has been written about Grass Green, for example. But, perspectively, I am curious in regards to their comics, how do you remember the three of them?

Grass Green and I did work for each other’s comics over several years but never met in person. I think I first got in touch with him when I ordered a book from him, possibly through Comics Buyers Guide, if you remember that. We became good friends and long-distance collaborators. Grass was much more known than I. There was enough work for a book about a wild girl named Lolly in the woods that I inked for him. It was to be a two-parter, but he died sending me the second part’s art or publishing the first part, and I don’t know what became of it. One of my favorite things I did for him was a 4-page story called “Save the World” that ran in the November 1998 issue of Scary Monsters Magazine. I also inked his Fantagraphics one-shot “The Decorator”, the origin story, as well as most of at least 2 of his other titles, one being Horny Comix, and I forget the other’s name right now. He did the cover story for my White Whore Funnies #3 in 1979/80 IIRC.

Wildman Promo by Grass Green and Larry Fuller, circa 1992.

Joeseph:
At one point, you hoped to work for Marvel and/or DC. Your work, along with Guy’s and Raye’s, veered towards the more adult-oriented comics of the underground comix scene. These types of comics you wouldn’t be able to do at Marvel and DC. Were there other attempts to get published by the big two outside of Ebon? If not, was the success doing Comix the reason, or was there a barrier to entry at the big two companies?

 

Larry:
Working at Marvel and/or DC could be classified as a pipe dream. Raye and I never made any approaches to “the big two.” Some artists who did work for me did and some of them had good rides. Self-publishing is a hands-on thing and I was entirely self-funded. Often I lived “like a monk” and worked two jobs, in addition to CONSTANT visiting, calling, and writing whoever might want to stock my comics. Raye’s entire life was comics and his art, to which he was entirely dedicated, consistently practicing to get better, and he spent all his extra money collecting and visiting comic book stores and cons.

 

Joeseph:
Ebon was a black and white comic with a yellow tone, decades before Ms. Tree doing something similar. It’s bigger than an average comic. What leads to these choices. Choices that, if made today, would be exciting and different from today’s average comic.

 

Larry:
The printing format was entirely determined by Gary Arlington and possibly the printer, the great Don Donahue, a real legend in the underground, though I do recall telling them I wanted a yellow

moon. At that time I had little to no knowledge of printing technology.

Wildman Promo2 by Grass Green and Larry Fuller, circa 1992.

Joeseph:
You were in the Air Force. Comics were very popular with those in uniform. Did you ever read The Preventative Maintenance Monthly with Will Eisner’s contributions?

Larry:
I can’t say that I did, but might have. I was writing scenarios for years, having no idea anything would ever come of that.

 

Joeseph:
Your next published story was a Lovecraft adaptation. What led you to Ebon to Lovecraft?

Lolly – Splash page of 2 part story by Grass Green, never finished.

Larry:
That book was all about interpretations of Lovecraft stories and that was the one I got. Rory Hayes worked at Gary’s and was a good buddy. He edited that book, Laugh in the Dark, and asked if I wanted to have a page in it. Of course, I said Hell, yeah!

 

Joeseph:
I imagine Lovecraft was an interest. What other prose did you read?

 

Larry:
I was heavy into people like Dickens, Steinbeck, James Baldwin, Evelyn Waugh, REH, ERB, Heinlein(!), Arthur C. Clarke, Maugham, and many more, and I also read a lot of paperback slush like Carter Brown, Shell Scott, The Executioner, Mickey Spillane, you name it, but I don’t how/if/what effect many of them had on me re Ebon, aside from possibly AE Van Vogt’s Slan and maybe Heinlein’s Methuselah’s Children – a great main character named Lazarus Long.

 

Joeseph:
Did you ever get into Samuel Delany?

Why I Do Not See – Inkscape illo.

Larry:

I have read some Delany, but just what escapes me right now.

 

Joeseph
You are noted creating Ebon and, with your later comix, creating very cutting social and political comics.

 

Larry:
Once it had become clear to Raye and me that we needed to something with a lot of sex in it to get some sales, we picked something somewhat pertinent to us, even if we didn’t necessarily think so: White women and Black men. That was White Whore Funnies #1. We decided to poke fun at everybody. It doesn’t pull many punches in that particular arena. A porn magazine shop owner friend of Raye us to make the people screwing look

good and the rest would take care of itself. That was good advice; we sold a good deal of product in local porn shops. We created two personas, he as Wiley Spade and me as A. Christian Black. I have seen where I’ve been listed as A. Christian White, but that is a mistake someone made that keeps getting perpetuated.

HerA Defends 03 – Old Fantasy Strip currently being reworked, renamed Uhura, Poser, DAZ, Photoshop.

Joeseph:
Reflecting back, what advice would you give to anyone wanting to try and do something different in comics.
Something that is part of them, that might not be what others are doing, or perhaps not what others are expecting?

 

Larry:

He Said His Name Was – Old illustration from lost strip done in Imagine and Paint Shop Pro (all files, including backups) accidentally deleted. (Sigh).

I say do what you want to do to the best of your ability. If it pleases them, that’ll be nice and hopefully profitable. If it pleases you, well so much the better, profitable or not.

Make sure you realize how labor-intensive an activity comics creation is, and while the range of possibilities is practically unending, probabilities not quite so much. One thing I’ve realized is that there are many, many levels of reaction, response, and appreciation, which I guess is good, even when not always favorable.

 

Joeseph:
Did you read Shattered or any of the other early experiments in creating comics with computers?

 

The Last Free Spirit – Poser illo run through some Android Phone Graphics App – not sure which – I’m old now.

Larry:
I vaguely remember Shattered. Was that First Comics? The 80s. Very pixelated IIRC, and may have been done on a Commodore 64/128. I did some x-rated stories on a Commodore 64 and later its “big brother” the Amiga. I had a 1000 and a 2000. I made about a 2-months run of a daily format black action hero strip called The Best Man on the Amiga using a 3D program called Imagine and a bitmap program Deluxe Paint – a whole lot of work – and with my then consummate computer skills all by myself, I managed to inadvertently totally delete all that stuff before publishing online, with only ONE PANEL surviving. Ha!

 

Joeseph:
You create art by hand and you also have used the computer and worked with 3D art.

 

The Old Cat House – Still from a short After Effects animfor a friend – circa 2014?

Larry:

Over the last several years I have gone largely digital – got into a bunch of things: Paint Shop Pro, Photoshop, Illustrator, Imagine 3D (oldie but goody ported to Windows from Amiga), After Effects, Poser, Daz Studio, Inkscape and many others, mostly for my own amusement. There are good ways to do comics with many of them. I do still just “draw”, but mostly small things.

About 20 years ago my wife and I became hard-core Argentine tango addicts, and this has “saved” us in so many ways. Even though there is currently no social tango – or other dances due to the pandemic – we still dance in the kitchen 3 or 4 nights a week, as we have for years. This has satisfied a great deal of my still rampant artistic yearnings and is something extremely gratifying that we do together.

In one regard the pandemic has been very good for me: The last few months I have done more drawing and creating than in the last several years combined. I always would think “real life” got in the way, but the way things have shaken out lately, I’ve gotten to do practically what I want, which is sit around a lot and makeup stuff.

 

The Tango Lovers – Larry Fuller and Wife sketched by GG from photo, inked by Larry Fuller

Joeseph
What did you think about the early adventures of Black Panther, Falcon and Luke Cage, Power Man?

 

Larry:
I love all those characters, even some with obvious imperfections. I love that they exist and the audiences they reach, as well as the veritable multitude of Black indies that are very visible these days. Altogether the different facets of the overall Black comics universe continue to put consumers of all stripes on notice as to just how much richness it contains. That, IMHO, is a very good thing.

 

Thank you, Larry. The comics that Larry worked on and the creators that he worked with are an important part of comic book history.  With work spanning from superhero to comix, I look forward to seeing what else Larry might contribute.  To the comic book reader, what we take for granted today, with the leading black creators in enviable positions in comics to the ease of indie publishing today, was not as easy or common in 1969. Without creators like Larry, Grass Green, and Larry’s other friends, it is impossible to say how less common these achievements would be today.

 

For more on Larry:
http://webs.lanset.com/lfuller/

http://everynightoftheweek.com

Himself – Recent selfie.

https://www.firstcomicsnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Larry-Fuller-Banner.pnghttps://www.firstcomicsnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Larry-Fuller-Banner-150x64.pngJoeseph SimonInterviewsEbon,Larry Fuller
As a comic book reporter, I get a chance to talk to a lot of different comic book creators. Today I am honored to interview Larry Fuller, a comix legend.  Larry created Ebon, the first comic to be entirely written and drawn by a single black creator at the...